We’ve all wanted to be the ones on the court. The ones who create art with dunks, jumpers, and crossovers. The ones who are able to share their own stories through this medium. The ones who roar. Pound their chests. Shout to the crowd. Bask in greatness. To become like our heroes is the dream.

But in the stage of the basketball court, there are other stories meant to be told. The ones from the stands. The ones who lineup for tickets in as early as 9 in the evening the previous day. The ones who spend time making banners and posters. The ones who try their best to copy their heroes when they play pickup.

The story of the athlete matters. But the fan also has his own story to tell, ones that are just as important as their heroes. This is our KuwentongBola.

By: Aljo Dolores

Every kid dreams big. When I say big, I mean really big: grand, bold, unrealistic at times. A Marvel superhero. A Disney princess. A WWE wrestler. The protagonist from their favorite anime. Whoever they want to be. It doesn’t matter if the characters exist in the real world or not. In a kid’s world, everything is possible.

I was once that kid, too. Like the other boys in town, I beamed kamehame waves and ray guns, wielded spirit swords, and frog splashed my friends as if I was every lovable character from afternoon TV shows. I spent a significant portion of my childhood weaving fantasies into my reality.

Sometimes I was a ninja turtle. Sometimes Rey Mysterio. Sometimes a random Pokémon trainer who loved the water type. These were all iterations of me, having fun, being a kid. However, there was one particular version of myself which went beyond bringing joy to my rather simple mind—it defined my childhood.

Back when I was four, maybe five years old, I used to share a bedroom with my two siblings. Just outside our room was an open area where we did the laundry. Being a huge basketball fan that my dad was, he turned that space into a toddler’s basketball halfcourt.

That was my first memory of playing basketball. With a toy football in hand, I took jumpers and dunks on a small hoop attached to a column just four feet above the ground. The place was mostly silent, except for the swish of the net and the bounce of the plastic ball against the pavement.

In my mind though, I pictured myself balling hard at a stadium, in front of thousands of people. I heard the loud cheers from the hometown fans. With the game on the line, I pulled off a jumper at the top of the key. There was a collective gasp as the crowd watched the ball travel mid-air. Three, two, one—swish. Legions of people unleashed a deafening roar as I sank the shot to win the game.

I spent hours playing different basketball scenarios my young mind could imagine. In that court, I was a pro baller who could drop 30 points against the best to ever play the game.

I held on to this version of myself even if I wasn’t playing ball. When I was about nine years old, I proudly displayed my jerseys at our room as if they hanged on the rafters of a basketball gymnasium. Sometimes at night, I just stared at the kits from the top bunk of the double deck bed as I pictured myself playing at the PBA or the NBA.

For a while, the makeshift court and the bedroom became my paradise. I played nonstop throughout summer vacations as I created an alternate reality for myself. In my mind, I was a basketball superstar who played in the Araneta Coliseum, probably Madison Square Garden.

But I didn’t play just for fun. I wanted basketball to be my reality. The real one. As a kid, I had a clear plan for my future. I’m gonna grow above six feet, dominate the PBA and then make the jump to the NBA. I chased my very first dream on the makeshift court outside my room.

At some point, kids lose those fantasies. They would stop acting like they’re the awesome characters they used to play. I wasn’t spared from downfall. I let go of the different characters I played one after another. I was no longer a ninja turtle. A luchador. A famous anime character. All these projections of myself got lost in my past.

That included my basketball superstar self. I lost interest to achieve that shot-to-the-moon dream right before I finished high school. I barely passed five feet at that time. I knew that I might not grow as tall as I wanted to. There’s just little to no chance I’d get to six (thanks, genes).

Moreover, I grew up believing a certain dichotomy: it’s either books or ball. There’s no way anyone could do both. Little by little, studies took over my time. I performed well in school, but I never had the chance to show my skills at a basketball court outside of the miniature one we had at home. I was way closer at being an honor student than I was at being a basketball prodigy.

I knew I had to abandon whatever crazy stupid NBA dream I had. I wasn’t carved out for it. Early on, I already knew that I might become a doctor, an engineer, or perhaps a lawyer if l would just study hard—but never a professional basketball player.

I never stopped loving basketball though. I  watched televised games during my free time, especially those weeknight PBA games. I played NBA Live on the computer during weekends. My life outside of school still involved that sport.

Because I watched a lot of games with my dad, I saw the way he reacted whenever Alvin Patrimonio was on the TV screen. He was animated, livid at times. He reacted in every play as if his life depended on it. There was no denying that he had a personal affection towards Patrimonio. I bet that if ever he gets entangled in an argument, he would use everything in his power to prove that his idol was the greatest player to ever set foot in the PBA.

I found it odd that I didn’t have that kind of affection towards any player. Sure, I became a diehard fan of Purefoods, thanks to my dad’s conditioning. I couldn’t remember a time though when I looked up to a certain player and said, “I wanna be like him.”

Maybe it’s because part of me still wanted to be that basketball star I first visualized when I was a child. I knew I won’t ever be. I wasn’t meant to be a basketball player, let alone a pro baller. Unlike me, I always thought that these players who I constantly saw on TV had an easier path when it came to building their hoop dreams. They’re tall. They’re athletic. They’re built for basketball. They never experienced the struggle of a regular person like me.

That was until I met Jeremy Lin.

Well, we didn’t exactly meet. Rather, I witnessed how he evolved from a relative unknown to a worldwide sensation. It was February 2012 and the Knicks were struggling in the lockout-shortened season. Coach Mike D’Antoni, who called the shots for New York, was best known for turning point guards into gods—just ask Steve Nash. Ironically, the Knicks’ PG rotation sucked big time. Baron Davis was injured. Mike Bibby was way past his basketball prime but still way ahead of his Hulk transformation. Toney Douglas was inconsistent. Young Iman Shumpert was still being forced to play the point. With no one else to turn to, D’Antoni took a Hail Mary by sending Lin on the floor.

Prior to that game, I only saw Jeremy Lin’s name on two outlets. The first one was on NBA 2K. I was fascinated by his personal background right from the start: an Asian-American Harvard graduate who tried his luck in the NBA. I would always include him on my season lineups, perhaps a way of saying I wanted him to be successful.

The second one was in online news. Unlike in video games, real life was cruel to Lin. Whenever his name would pop out in the news, it would most likely be about him struggling to stay in the league. He bounced around the NBA quite a few times, never really had a decent start to his career.

In a way, he reinforced the dichotomy I lived into. Books or ball. You just couldn’t have both. It’s one or the other. In his case, his Harvard education was the end of his chances of making it to the NBA. His school was well known at producing scholars and leaders. Not basketball players. Essentially, he had a better shot at being Barack Obama than being Michael Jordan.

So there’s just no way that this Harvard graduate would actually make an impact to the game. He never did in his three years at the end of the benches of several teams. He certainly won’t for this desperate Knicks squad.

But just like how heroes from perfectly-written Hollywood movies saved the day,  Jeremy Lin took over Big Apple.

A drive here. A layup there. He played the way he was supposed to, like a man whose life depended on the outcome of the game. He finished with 25 points, five rebounds and seven assists. More importantly, he rallied New York to a much-needed win.

His first notable NBA game started an unexpected moment of joy in me. I was ecstatic to see him breakout of his struggles even for just one game. I had some kind of connection to him, like I somehow felt whatever he’d been through before that night. Perhaps, my affinity towards Lin was already there the first time I knew him. It just waited for the right time to fully take over me as a basketball fan. Either way, I knew I was hooked with Jeremy Lin.

I followed his games online. I watched his highlights. One insane performance after another. Win after win after win. Soon, the shine of his star that is Linsanity beamed out from New York to the rest of the world. I was among the hundreds, maybe thousands of people who were drawn into it. I was completely sold by the way this nobody came out of nowhere and took the NBA by storm.

Perhaps the Toronto game was the final nail that pinned me into Lin’s fandom. I would forever remember the shot that he took towards the end. He drew the play just like how I reenacted the same situation over and over again on the makeshift court I played to as a kid. Game on the line. Ball on his hands. A defender standing between him and the hoop. The clock went down as he dribbled closer to the arc. Three, two, one—

Swish.

I repeated the video of that moment countless times over a few weeks. Every time I watched that shot, I felt like I was watching myself, my basketball superstar self that I created when I was young. More accurately, I felt like I was a kid again.

“I wanna be like him.”

For the first time in my life, I was attached to a certain player. I saw parallelisms of my life to his and it made me feel like I could relate to him. He went to a university known for its academic excellence rather than sports. With it, all the odds were stacked against him making it big to the pros. All his life, he had to fight for his rightful place at the greatest basketball stage in the world. Through Linsanity, Jeremy Lin personified my childhood dream to make it to the NBA.

I became Jeremy Lin’s loyal fan, even after his New York stint. I followed him to Houston, Los Angeles, Charlotte, Brooklyn, Atlanta and Toronto. I stayed through the ups and downs of his career. I sighed in disbelief with every injury he sustained. I smiled from ear to ear with every good game he accomplished. I cursed his coach to death with every DNP he received.

My biggest regret as Lin’s fan was failing to buy his New York jersey. I wanted to wear his name and number every time I stepped on the court. Unfortunately, the money was never there. By the time I had the capacity to buy some years later, all those Lin swingman jerseys were gone. I had a full article about that written on SLAM Philippines for its Grail Week.

That piece wasn’t just a feature, it’s my cry for help to find one. I wanted to be in his clothes, both literally and figuratively. I wanted to swish jumpers, complete nifty passes and celebrate game-winners like he once did, even if just for pickup games. Truth be told, I had the smallest of hopes that my words would reach people who could give me a lead. That’s why with no shame, I sent the article out like a message in a bottle that floated in the vast ocean of the internet.

The article gained some traction from fellow fans, but I didn’t find any means to buy a Jeremy Lin jersey. I thought the quest has ended right after it started. I didn’t expect to wake up two days later with my phone full of notifications. I had no idea why people were looking for me online. Why were they shouting through texts? Did I do something wrong? It took me a minute before I saw what the clamor was all about.

My message found its way to Jeremy Lin himself. “Consider it done,” he said. I was instantly thrown into a concoction of emotions as I try to understand what transpired. Lin would send a jersey from across the world to me. And it’s not just any jersey. It’s my personal holy grail of basketball memorabilia: a Knicks uniform with his name and number in it.

A few months had passed before the jersey reached my doorstep. From the moment I laid my eyes on it, I knew that what I received was worth waiting for. He gave me an Away jersey with the words “New York” and “Lin” emblazoned on the royal blue fabric. Below his surname was the number 17 that with his signature written across.

I reminisced a few moments I had since I was a kid. Those shootarounds in the miniature court. Those nights I witnessed my dad cheer for his idol with all his heart. Those days I spent watching the rise of Linsanity. I felt like every little thing that happened to me led me to where I was: at the middle of the room, standing, smiling, holding something that I knew I will treasure for life.

Truth is, Lin meant so much to me than just the personification of my childhood dream. Sure, he turned my four-year-old self’s wildest basketball dreams into reality. But beyond that, Lin serves as an inspiration to my present self. He makes me believe that anything is possible if you just continue to fight for what you want. No matter how many times he failed, Lin found his place not just in the NBA, but in the hearts of his fans around the world, including me.

Soon, Lin’s jersey will hang on the wall of my room, much like how my uniforms were displayed on that shared childhood bedroom. I won’t be leaving the house without looking at all the glory of the royal blue fabric with the name of my hero in it. I may not be able to wear it like what I originally wanted, but that jersey will be so much more than what it was supposed to be on court. It will be my constant reminder to be whoever I want to be. To dream big like a kid. To dream big like Jeremy Lin.